Taking the train from Riomaggiore via Spesti Levante, we arrived in Milan in the early afternoon. The train ride followed the coast for about half of the time, including some beautiful vistas and towns that are now on my list to visit next time I come to Italy. We arrived in Milan with no major problems. We were staying at a cool hostel called Ostello Bello, near the center of town. However, Milan is Italy’s second largest city, so I was afraid navigating might be a problem. But after two years in DC, I am well-versed in how to read a Metro map, so after a few minutes we had a game plan in order to take the metro across town. This went surprisingly well (no single-tracking in Milan!) and arrived at the hostel. As part of our welcome, we got a glass of wine and settled into our home for the next two days.
After getting everything in order at the hostel, we headed out to check out Milan. Milan is well-known as the fashion capital of the world, so in order to fully experience Milan culture, Chelsey and I headed to the shops. Luckily, our hostel was just down the block from lots of great stores and we had some good luck finding a few minor purchases to add to our wardrobes. Along the way, we checked out Milan’s Duomo.
The Duomo di Milan is less of a dome than the duomo in Florence but is equally impressive. The Milan Duomo’s distinguishing characteristic is its spires. The whole church is covered in them. Each spire (there are about 135 full-sized spires) is topped with statues, and even the spire itself has several intricate carvings and statues. According to the Duomo di Milan’s website, there are more than 1800 statues are found on the spires. Spires are typical of the Gothic architecture popular (especially for churches) at the time, but also serve a structural purpose as well, helping to distribute the weight across the structure. We took a quick peek inside to marvel at the gilded artwork and statuary that adorned the sanctuary.
The next morning, we had a chance to walk up to the terrace and check out the spires up close and personal. This was a very different view from the other towers we’d climbed in the past few days since instead of unimpeded views of the city, we were treated to views of the city from between the spires. But this also gave us a great chance to see the carvings and work done from closer, which led to greater appreciation of how much work it must have taken to carve each one. We lucked out and went to a different ticket counter away from the entrance, so we only had to wait in line for a couple of minutes. The walk up was very nice and easy compared to some of the others – and it was 5 Euro cheaper than taking the elevator!
After the duomo, we walked across town and visited the Castello Sforenza (Sforza Castle). This castle was built in the 1400s by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. Although we didn’t go into any of the art galleries or museums, the outside was impressive enough. After being in the family and used by other royalty types, the castle was turned into a citadel during the Spanish invasion and remained a fort until after the unification of Italy in the mid-19th century, when it was transferred to the city of Milan. After checking out the castle, we headed for a rest in Parco Sempione, which was created on the former parade grounds.
After maneuvering through the throngs of couples enjoying Sunday afternoon in the park, we took a break and enjoyed the sunshine (and maybe took a nap). This park is one of the largest in the city and seemed to certainly be a popular place.
We took a walk across the city (only getting lost a couple of times) to the Navigli District, home to Milan’s old canal systems that at one time saw enough tonnage pass through to make it one of the busiest ports in Italy. However, Milan is busily preparing to host a major world expo next summer so basically the entire place was a construction zone. Most of the canals were totally drained and blocked by fencing, cones, and other assorted construction materials. However, the shops and restaurants were for the most part still open, so we had a chance to check out the giant flea market and try and panzerotti.
The panzerotti is something of a specialty in Milan and is similar to a meat pie or calzone, except softer and fried. Chelsey and I both went with the classic, a pocket of piping hot tomato sauce and melted mozzarella. While a little tricky to eat, this ‘pizza donut’ as Chelsey accurately calls it would be right at home at the Iowa State Fair.
Post-sightseeing and walking all over Milan, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hostel for our apertivo, which is a fancy way of saying happy hour with snacks (more to come on this awesomeness).